Magic at the press of a button: What makes a good gaming keyboard
By Philipp Laage Mar 28, 2010, 17:58 GMT
Berlin - Gamers need to have quick reactions, the ability to multitask, and absolute control of the game action. They expect their keyboard not just to keep up, but to make their life easier as well. That includes a comfortable feel, extra programmable buttons, and in some cases special built-in displays as well. Choosing the right keyboard is a question of personal preference and preferred game genre.
A gaming keyboard differs from standard keyboards in two significant ways: first, gaming keyboards contain extra functions and keys tailored for the actions a gamer performs, explains Sven Simon from hardware maker Logitech. One example is a small display on the keyboard containing information about the game. Second, gaming keyboards are much better equipped than regular keyboards to adapt to the needs of the specific gamer and the specific game.
One prime example is macro buttons. These are special programmable buttons that can run a complicated series of commands with one touch. They are tremendously important for gamers, says Lars Craemer from PC Games Hardware magazine. 'Magic spells in some role-playing games require quick and precise entry of numerous keyboard commands, for example,' Craemer says. It makes life much easier for the gamer if they can define the entire batch as one single command.
There are two versions of the macro programming function. The simpler style plays back the keyboard sequence rapidly. Extra ambitious gamers want to be able to define the delays between the different commands, Craemer explains. Otherwise some of the commands will interfere with one another.
Traditional keyboards offer the classic 105 key layout. Gaming keyboards supplement these with a variety of special keys that are especially important for real-time strategy games, says Boris Gojic from game maker Electronic Arts in Cologne. Gaming keyboards also register a keystroke with less pressure than a standard keyboard.
'That means the key has to travel less distance before registering, which means quicker reaction times,' he says. The keyboards should also be highly stable and offer good ergonomics to ensure they don't wear out prematurely.
How the keyboard feels beneath your hands is a subjective feeling, Craemer notes. Many wrist rests have a steep angle, causing the hand to slip off easily. 'For gamers with big hands, though, precisely that kind of rest may be perfect,' he notes. Gamers should go hands-on with the merchandise before taking it home. The same applies for key height. 'Many people like flat laptop keys, others prefer full-size keys,' says Craemer. Another factor to remember: the best equipment can't help you if the keyboard slips because there are no rubber bases on the bottom.
Real-time strategy games require good ergonomics, Gojic says. Professional gamers frequently switch between mouse and keyboard. Ultimately deciding on the right keyboard for you is a question of which gaming genre you prefer: 'Online role playing games are most effectively mastered using freely programmable keys,' Gojic explains. That means the macro buttons are crucial. First-person shooters are better served with keys the react to low pressure taps.
Gaming keyboards are offered in various price classes. The lower end starts at around 25 dollars, Craemer says. 'But the macro functions often run only through the driver and the models look like something out of a gumball machine,' he says. Classic mid-range keyboards for gamers like the G11 from Logitech or the upcoming SideWinder x4 from Microsoft start at around 40 dollars.